K-1 visa. What it is, how to get one and more?

In past posts we’ve talked extensively about how you, as a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, can help your relatives come to live in the United States. In this post, we’ll tackle a different issue — namely what you can do if you’re engaged to someone from another country and you want to get married in the United States so they can live here legally, too.

Specifically, we’ll talk about the K-1 visa, what it is, how to get one and more.

So let’s start with the basics. What is a K-1 visa? According to the Department of State (DOS) Bureau of Consular Affairs, this is the document that your fiancé(e) needs if he or she is from another country and wants to come here to get married. Specifically, it will allow the two of you to get married within three months after his or her arrival. It will also allow your fiancé(e) to apply for a Green Card after the wedding.

Of course, there are certain requirements. In most cases these are:

  • That you and your fiancé(e) met in person with in the past two years
  • That you and your fiancé(e) are both legally permitted to get married when you initiate the K-1 visa process
  • That your legal eligibility to marry doesn’t change
  • That you can legally marry in the state where the wedding will take place
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But before your fiancé(e) can get a K-1 visa, he or she must get an approved Petition for Alien Fiancé(e) Form I-129F. As the U.S. citizen sponsoring your fiancé(e), the completion an submission of this form to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office serving your area is your responsibility. To ensure that the form is accepted, fill out all 13 pages. The agency will automatically reject any unsigned and/or incomplete forms, especially those without certain basic information about yourself and the person you’re sponsoring (the beneficiary). You must also use the correct edition of this form. As of January 2018, the only acceptable version is the one dated 4/10/17. You can verify the edition date by checking the bottom of the form and/or instructions.

Along with Form I-129F, you must provide supporting evidence or documents to demonstrate that:

  • You are a U.S. citizen
  • Any previous marriages that you or your fiancé(e) were involved in were officially (legally) dissolved (ended)
  • You or your fiancé(e) has changed your name (if applicable)
  • Information from Form I-94 and/or travel documents
  • Evidence of intent to marry within the specified period
  • Evidence that you and your fiancé met in person within the past two years

You must also submit one “passport-style” photograph of yourself and one of your beneficiary. These must be color photographs, measuring 2 inches by 2 inches. You must also write your names on the back of the photos in felt tip pen or pencil.

Finally, there is a non-refundable $535 filing fee associated with this form. Payment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in U.S. currency must be made by check or money order drawn on a U.S. bank account or made out at a U.S. bank; cash payments are not acceptable.

Remember, Form I-129F cannot be filed at a U.S. Embassy, Consulate, or USCIS office overseas. For information about where to send your completed Form I-129F, supporting documents and filing fee, click here.

Once the USCIS gets the Form I-129F, it reviews all of the documents for accuracy and completion. It will then do a background check on both you and your fiancé(e) and if everything is OK, it will approve the petition. All this means, however, is that the government acknowledges your engagement.

After it does so, USCIS will send the approved petition to the DOS National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC, in turn,  forwards it to the embassy or consulate where your fiancé(e) will apply for the K-1 visa (generally, the embassy or consulate in the area where he or she lives).

The NVC will also let you know when your fiancé(e) should apply for the K-1 Visa. He or she should do so at the U.S. Embassy or consulate indicated on the Form I-129F. Along with the application, he or she must provide proof of identity, proof of financial support, proof of the relationship with you, as well as the records from a medical exam completed by an approved physician.

The required documents include:

  • A completed Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (with payment of associated processing fee)
  • A current passport
  • Divorce or death certificates as evidence of legal termination of past marriages (for the applicant and U.S. citizen-sponsor
  • Police certificates from the country where the applicant currently resides and all countries where he or she has lived for more than six months since he or she was 16 years of age
  • A completed Form I-134 Affidavit of Financial Support, if requested
  • Two 2 x 2 photographs meeting applicable specifications

The requirements pertaining to the medical exam are also quite strict. As noted, the physical must be done by a government-approved doctor and the associated fee must be paid  prior to the interview in order to avoid delays in the application process. The DOS provides detailed instructions on how to find an authorized doctor here.

The DOS also provides a list of the things the applicant should bring to the medical exam. These are: official documentation of past immunizations and vaccinations; any past chest X-rays; copies of past medical records; and his or her identity card, passport or other applicable documents.

At the appointment, the doctor will review the applicant’s medical history, take a chest X-ray, do blood tests, and do a routine physical exam in which he or she will check the applicant’s vital organs, eyes, ears, nose, throat, arms, legs and external genitalia for any abnormalities and/or evidence of disease. At the end of the exam, the doctor will give the applicant information to take to the interview, or send straight it to the U.S. embassy or consulate where the interview will be done.

As part of the application review, the DOS will do similar background checks to those done by USCIS. In addition to fingerprinting, this usually includes verification of your fiancé/e’s identity and criminal record (if any) through the use of various government databases. An interview conducted by a  “consular officer” from the DOS is also part of this process.

Based on all of that, the officer will determine whether your relationship is “real,” and whether or not the person seeking the K-1 visa qualifies for one. Disqualification may be based on health issues, the commission of past crimes, national security concerns, or for other, miscellaneous reasons). In many cases, a finding of ineligibility for any of these reasons doesn’t necessarily end the application process, however. Depending on the reason for disqualification, your fiancé/e may be able to seek a waiver.

If there are no complications, the officer will issue the K-1 visa, which is valid for one trip to the United States within six months. Even the issuance of the visa does not guarantee admission, however.

With the K-1 visa and sealed packet provided by the consular officer in hand, your fiancé(e) must come here within the specified period. Upon arrival, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will conduct its own “inspection,” including an interview and background checks. The results will determine whether or not your fiancé(e) can enter the country. If admission is granted, you will be able to get married within the three-month period specified by law.

The paperwork won’t end after the wedding, though. After you and your fiancé(e) are married, he or she can apply for a Green Card by filing Form I-485 with USCIS and paying the associated fee. In this part of the process, your spouse must get or prove that he or she has had all of the vaccinations required under United States law. As the U.S. citizen-sponsor, you must complete and file a Form I-864, Affidavit of Financial Support in connection with this application.

Like the others, this application process also includes a background check and interviews of one or both parties. If you’ve been married for less than two years when the Green Card is issued, issuance will done on a conditional basis, and the lawful permanent resident status is only good for two years.

An important point to note here is that conditional Green Cards can’t be renewed. So the holder must have the conditions removed, or risk being deported. The removal of conditions is done by filing yet another form — the Form l-751 with USCIS three months prior to the expiration of the conditional Green Card. In most cases this form must be filed jointly, meaning you and your spouse must fill it out and sign it. During this process, one or both of you will be interviewed, and USCIS will do another round of background checks.

Clearly, obtaining a K-1 visa is a critical step in helping someone you love come to the United States in order to get married and become a lawful permanent resident. Failing to follow instructions or omitting required information during any part of this process can result in delays or the denial of the application. Contact an experienced immigration attorney at ZontLaw to see how we can help you with this process today.

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